Keegan Daniel produced a moment of sublime skill to grab a 34-25 victory for the Sharks over the Blue Bulls in an enthralling match in Durban.
With the result in the balance at 27-25 to the Sharks, Daniel fielded a miscued tactical kick, chipped the cover defence and collected before racing home to send the home fans into an absolute frenzy.
However, to put down this result and the quality of the match to the efforts of an individual is an insult to the collective. The return of the Springboks had a patent impact on the standard of play but the contribution of Stefan Terblanche, Wynand Olivier and Deon Carstens, among others, must be lauded.
The Sharks dominated all the early play but it was the Bulls who smashed open the contest with a try straight off the training ground.
Victor Matfield ruled the air at a lineout and the ball was shifted to Olivier who exploited some poor defensive organisation in midfield and offloaded to Marius Delport.
The teams, eager not to make errors in their own territory, exchanged a plethora of kicks, none proving effective. For that period they both looked rudderless on attack, although superbly organised defensive systems have to be credited in this regard.
However, some patient phase play eventually saw the Bulls’ defensive line depleted. Odwa Ndungane sprinted home, but the creator must be noted – Terblanche drawing two defenders to free up the Springbok winger.
Ruan Pienaar slotted a difficult conversion and added three more points later in the half to give his side the lead.
The Sharks dominated possession and territory but failed to convert that dominance into points despite a host of opportunities – the best of which came when the irrepressible Carstens broke from a ruck, powered upfield and offloaded to Pienaar who was indecisive and paid the price as a result.
At 10-7 the game was still anyone’s at the break and the Bulls should have taken the lead when they worked the ball wide to Tiger Mangweni. But the fullback knocked on with the tryline at his mercy.
What would have been a four point lead soon became a 10-point deficit – Frederic Michalak intercepting and putting JP Pietersen away for the score.
However, another Olivier line bust set up a score for Victor Matfield. Morne Steyn had earlier missed a kickable penalty and he sliced his conversion attempt this time – missing out on five crucial points.
But the Bulls refused to relent and levelled the scores through Olivier thanks in large part to a brilliant sniping break from Fourie du Preez. Steyn missed again but made sure two minutes later, giving his side a three point lead at 20-17.
The momentum was with the Bulls and they gained the ascendancy when Olivier grabbed his brace. However, Steyn missed yet another crucial conversion.
The Sharks showed a truck load of character and blended that with skill and intelligence to wrest back the initiative, Terblanche, who had an outstanding match, smashing over from close range.
Pienaar converted then sunk a long-range penalty before missing one. But the disappointment he would have felt was quickly erased when Daniel conjured his spell to seal a memorable victory.
Sharks - Try: Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen, Stefan Terblanche, Keegan Daniel. Conversion: Ruan Pienaar (4). Penalty: Pienaar (2)
Blue Bulls - Try: Marius Delport, Victor Matfield, Wynand Olivier (2). Conversion: Morne Steyn. Penalty: Steyn
By Ryan Vrede